National Fentanyl Awareness Day: Doctors tout medication treatment for addiction disorders

NOW: National Fentanyl Awareness Day: Doctors tout medication treatment for addiction disorders

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Tuesday, May 9 is National Fentanyl Awareness Day, and doctors are shining a spotlight on medication treatments that are proven to help people in their recovery.

MOUD stands for Medications for Opioid Use Disorder. It's a treatment option doctors say is much safer and more effective than detox.

When someone uses opioids like fentanyl for a long time, their brain gets used to it and goes haywire if it doesn't get it. At the peak of withdrawal there can be uncontrolled nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. So, people are very motivated to keep using opioids to avoid those symptoms.

But medications bind to the same place in the brain that heroin and fentanyl bind, and thus keep people from going into withdrawal.

Dr. Hillary Tamar is a doctor with Community Medical Services. She said, "People are already using substances in your neighborhood."

Two-hundred Americans are dying every day from fentanyl in a crisis that is not stopping. Dr. Tamar sees patients from every walk of life and says they're our friends and neighbors. She said, "The faces of opioid use disorder are many and varied."

For a long time, the predominant treatment was behavioral health. But medications that treat opioid use disorder are effective on their own and keep people from getting sick.

Dr. Tamar explained, "You get your methadone, you don't go into withdrawal, you don't feel high, you're not drowsy. And then you just go the whole day."

Both Suboxone and Methadone are on World Health Organization's list of essential medications.

People on Methadone are 70% less likely to die of an overdose. And of those who go on Methadone, 25% stay on forever, 20% taper off entirely, and 50% go on and off over the course of their lives.

Dr. Tamar said generally the longer someone is on medication, the better, because it takes time to build a sober life, but everyone is different. "The research shows us that the evidence is strongest for people that are on Methadone for three-plus years, and that anything under a year or less is not effective."

But people who are prescribed Methadone must take their dose every day, so access to treatment centers is critical. Fewer centers means recovery is much more challenging.

Dr. Tamar said, because of that, "By far, the best, most compassionate thing we can do for the people in our community that use opioids is treat them with kindness and facilitate the opening of more treatment centers."

Community Medical Services' internal data shows anxiety is cut in half after one month of treatment, and the likelihood of homelessness decreases by one-third.

According to Dr. Tamar, "There are lots of wins. If people are using less fentanyl than they were before, they're often able to obtain housing, they're able to provide for their families."

She said the medication keeps people from withdrawal so they can focus on other aspects of life, as one patient recently told her: "He said 'Since I am on the Methadone, I don't think about using any more, and I don't have to do side quests all day to figure out how to get heroin.'"

Just last week, the city of Milwaukee's Board of Zoning Appeals approved another treatment center on the city's south side.

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